04 June 2009

David Carradine and the Meaning of Death

Actor David Carradine was reported dead earlier, found with a rope around his throat "and other parts of his body" in a hotel in Bangkok. The local police surmise he committed suicide, but I think instead it was an auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong. First of all, Mr. Carradine was in Bangkok for filming. Who takes on a movie and then kills himself during the shoot? Even Pedro Armendariz, who took his own life rather than endure the suffering from his terminal cancer, finished his work on From Russia with Love first.

One of the message boards I frequent, DVD Talk, has been alight with discussion over Carradine's passing all morning and I confess to being surprised at how many posters are not simply surprised by this...but disappointed in him, as well. In a nutshell, the argument seems to be: dying is sad, suicide is shameful and dying from a sex accident is worse still. Rubbish, I say! It would be presumptuous to claim that I know what occured in that hotel room. For all I know, Mr. Carradine was murdered by a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the, um, movie production company. Since all we have is the official report, though, then it is upon that which my argument shall be based.

Let's say it was suicide. This is an upsetting topic for many people, and I do not mean for my remarks to be misconstrued as a cavalier endorsement of the act. People only commit suicide for one reason, and that is to escape something that has upset them so much they prefer not to live with it. Sometimes this is emotional trauma, sometimes it's a physical condition. Others do it to get out of serving a couple of years in a minimum security federal prison for embezzlement. Whatever the reason, I find it morally reprehensible to say to another human being that they should not consider ending their life because I'm squeamish about it. I don't know how upsetting it might be to bury your entire family in one day, or to have stage three cancer, but I know this much: it probably dwarfs the kinds of irritations that nag at most of the people whose lives haven't nudged them into considering ending their own life.

So, hypothetically let's say that Mr. Carradine elected to end his own life. That tells us that something was so upsetting to him that he could not find it in himself to cope with it. Now, remember, the man was 72 years old. He's lived through burying family members, career highs and lows and the Bush administration. None of that brought him to the brink, so whatever impetus he had must have been even more devastating than those things--which are all common reasons for suicide. If something that upsetting was plaguing the man, why should he not be entitled to say, "Not this time?"

As I've indicated, though, I do not suspect Mr. Carradine deliberately ended his own life. Aside from the fact he was actively working on a film--by all accounts something that movie stars enjoy doing--there is the practical issue of the rope. As a general rule, hangers don't tie other parts of their bodies. They don't take the time because they don't want to have time to change their minds at the last moment. Possibly, Mr. Carradine had the foresight to expect that he was physically capable of breaking free if he panicked and wanted to ensure that he did not survive, but that seems unnecessary. Surely he could have found another method to ensure a quick death.

That leaves us with auto-erotic asphyxiation (for the uninitiated, it's a sexual fetish in which a person is tied up for the purpose of being deprived of oxygen during the sex act). For some reason, the notion of David Carradine dying as a result of an unsafe performance of this act upsets some of his fans. I say, at 72, if the guy was still vital and adventuresome enough to explore his sexuality in that fashion, then kudos. We in the United States compartmentalize nearly every part of our lives, to the point that we have begun to deny the organic nature of life.

The way I see it, exploring one's sexuality and arriving at auto-erotic asphyxiation is no more shameful than exploring one's interest in literature and learning to read Crime and Punishment in the original Russian. Maybe most people won't go that far, but the moral value of any action should never be weighed by its popularity. Because of Mr. Carradine's public persona as an actor, fans have done to him what they have done since the dawn of time to anyone who has made a name for himself: they have interpreted and re-imagined him in their own image. This, I think, is the real reason why so many are already balking at the notion that he would die as a consequence of performing a kink act; he was willing to explore a part of himself that they have denied themselves.

My spiritual beliefs tell me that everything that happens does so for a reason. Do not think me so arrogant as to speak for God, but logic suggests that at least one reason for everything that happens is to teach us something. Sometimes, the lesson is only for ourselves; sometimes there is a secondary lesson intended for others. I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that our society has the chance to learn about itself from Mr. Carradine's death. If, of course, it can be prodded into such an exploration.


  1. I've mentioned before the time post-college when i too hung over the precipice and found myself unnervingly prepared to cease. My own epiphany, though not entirely understood to me at the time, was one along these same lines. I realized that my perspective had been limited and that those limitations were part of the surrounding society and not necessarily derived from anything I personally believed in. We have a very limited view of death, often influenced by either the religious or patriarchal currents of our society (and how nicely those two seem to hold hands and skip about now and then) whether we realize it or not. If the idea that to commit suicide is to decidedly spit in God's face after all he's done for you hasn't crept into at least the back of your mind due to its repetitious distribution from myriad outlets offering separate distillations of the same basic product then perhaps it may have occurred to you that suicide is just like giving up, you pussy little crybaby. These are the two dominant ideologies most commonly witnessed in the backdrop of our lives as far as this subject is concerned, once we step back for a moment and actually look at that backdrop rather than absorbing it by simple repetition much like memorizing flashcards before a test. Being conciously neither sexist nor particularly partial to a denominational path, it occurred to me that these ideas were so interwoven into American ideology of thought as to still have strings attached to me that i had not previously had the perspective to take notice of. The less damning idea then came to me that death is identical to the future. When I go to sleep at night I do not perceive either major or minor changes to the world around me that occur in that 6-8 hour time frame and thus can not act to encourage positive consequences or deflect negative ones. While I'm asleep terrorist attacks may well level several major cities and the government may declare a nationwide state of martial law which i will wake up to when my alarm goes off. Or a carload of porn starlets on a road trip may pause momentarily in front of my driveway to examine a map and were I there to assist them they may offer to have me join them on a whirlwind tour of debauchery. Or perhaps I will walk out to check the mail and a drunk driver will veer off his course and shatter my body just as I'm pulling my bills out of the box. I could die tomorrow, I don't know. All I know is if there is a tomorrow some of my friends are likely to be there, my girlfriend, family, or dog perhaps. Death...who knows what's there, maybe it's great, maybe one singular neuron continues to transmit to you a lingering conciousness as you rot in the ground. I'll find out eventually. For now, I'm happy with the one unknown because it's really not all that different from the other, and because of the nature of routine it takes less effort.

  2. Blah, blah, blah. Basically here it is: Sex is one of the greatest reasons to be alive, and simultaneously, it's not always all it's hyped up to be. I don't care about any "official report". The guy was likely trying to get his rocks off, whether by himself or with some chick he had met at a bar, or perhaps a chick he met at a bar and was paying, or perhaps a dude he met at a bar, or perhaps a chick that was sort of a dude (if you catch my drift) that he met at a bar. Just because no one was there when they found him that way, doesn't mean that other person didn't freak out when they realized this guy just died and they ran out of fear, cleaning up behind them so as not to leave any evidence. Furthermore, who's to say it wasn't some mafia hit because he owed them money for that chick/dude he was "erotically-asphyxiating" with the night before but didn't pay for? The mafia could make it look like a suicide. They do that you know.

    Whatever the case. Three greatest reasons to live? Sex, food, booze, and friends. And maybe family. Not necessarily in that order. Ok, so that's like five, but most people I think could just settle for the first three. Having said that, I value my own life as worth less than nothing in the grand scheme of things, and largely because I believe firmly in the afterlife and think I'll have a pretty good time there and look forward to meeting all those who've gone before me, and I certainly wouldn't miss all the crap I have to put with in this mortal coil. And if none of that is true, than when I'm dead I don't reckon it'll matter too much anyway, because I'll be dead.

    So as Solomon (the wisest man to ever live) puts it:

    "A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry."
    Ecclesiastes 8:15

    (and by "merry" I'm pretty sure he meant having a good time and getting laid, but what do I know?)